As I head to the next event at Lake Lanier, I’ve been reflecting on my win at the St. John’s River, and I have to admit – it’s still surreal. I haven’t wrapped my head around it.
That’s not to say I didn’t go into last week’s event with confidence. I had a good feeling about the tournament, especially after I got onto the fish with a good pattern during practice.
I found the fish by covering a lot of water with the new Luck-e-Strike Hail Mary, a lipless crankbait. I was catching them around the ends of docks. But when the water warmed up dramatically during competition, those fish moved shallower so I had to change tactics.
I nearly made a strategic mistake the first day when I left my area too soon. I had no idea how many big fish were in that area or how strong the fishing would be for everyone so I went into conserve mode and pulled off them too soon. I still caught more than 17 pounds, but everyone else was whacking them even better. For me to have a chance, I had to catch some really big bass, which I was fortunate to do over the next three days.
Because the fish moved shallower, I was able to use the 3/4-ounce Trickster Spinnerbait in which I have a great deal of confidence that time of year in Florida.
The spinnerbait has always been a good bait down there during January and February, and the Trickster’s size and long drop blade seems to really attract the bigger fish. I don’t care what other anglers say; the willow leaf spinnerbait can’t compete with that.
The bite was incredible! I was fishing the Trickster fast enough through dollar pads that I could still see it, but I wasn’t burning it. The fish would come up in slow motion and just eat it. It was amazing!
I also caught a few on the old Bobby Ditto Gator Tail worm in the same black/grape color I’ve always used there.
They don’t make it anymore, but like most fishermen, I hoarded several packs when they were available. I’m glad I did, but I’m almost out of them. The worm came in handy for those few bass that would bump the spinnerbait but not take it. I’d follow up with the worm, and they’d eat it.
So now it’s off to Lanier, where I’ve scored a couple of top 10 finishes over the years. The lake is best known for finesse fishing, but that’s not my strength and I won’t be doing that. I’ll still be fishing with spinnerbaits, crankbaits. I think that style of fishing will work well given the time of year. I’m at a bit of disadvantage because I lost Monday’s day of practice because of fishing on Sunday. But I will trade a win for a practice day any chance I get.
My goal at Lanier is to cover a lot of water and learn what I can in what little practice time I have. To be honest, most of us competitors wind up extending our practice into the first competition day anyway. The key to any tournament is fine-tuning what you learn each day and figuring out how to improve your catch as the tournament goes on.
That’s how I did it at St. John’s and will apply those same principles again this week.
One final thought about last week’s tournament. Prior to the season, many said that the Elite field would be weaker this season. St. John’s proved that’s hardly the case and showcased how many good fishermen are in this year’s field.
Consider this: When I won here in 2016, I won with 81 pounds. This year, the top four finishers had more than 90 pounds and 81 would have gotten you no better than ninth place.
That shows just how good these new guys are and how we can expect some very good competition the rest of the year.